A Tale of Two Biryanis

When I was growing up, food was typical “white bread”. It was North American blasé. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. Tuna fish sandwiches with mayo, chicken and frozen vegetables – that kind of food was fine with me. My mother was an excellent cook. What she made for us kids was tasty. Being of Ukrainian background, the closest I got to international cuisine was perogies and cabbage rolls. Unless you count Chinese food takeout as international.

It wasn’t until I move to Toronto to attend York University that the world opened up. I lived in a shared accomodation house on Dundas St West. I soon discovered authentic Chinese noodle dishes, Portugese tarts and, to my amazement, Indian food. I became addicted to the flavourful blend of curries, sauces and marinades. My favourite dish was the Biryani – layered rice with vegetables and meats. Check the Wikipedia entry on how popular and extensive this dish has become on both the India subcontinent and beyond.

It is little wonder that, in Chef Sean Mendoca’s Indian Vegetarian Class at George Brown, that the Biryani is the final dish to prepare. I present both the Vegetarian Biryani and the Lamb Biryani.

There is a lot to prep for this dish so give yourself a couple of hours to have everything ready. Then the cooking process goes smoothly. There is the paste preparation first and then the filling. Note that the chili powder used in these recipes is Kashmiri Chili which is a mild chili powder.

Vegetable Biryani – Yield 4 portions

1 onion
15 g garlic paste
15 g ginger paste
3 green chiles
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
5 g poppy seeds white
5 g turmeric
2.5 g chile powder
50 ml yoghurt

90 g ghee, divided into 60 g, 10 g and 20 g
1 onion, chopped
15 g cashews
10 g raisins
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1/4 head of cauliflower, diced
3 tomatoes, chopped
50 g frozen corn
50 g frozen green peas
1/2 green pepper
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 mint sprigs
300 g basmati rice
100 ml milk
Pinch of saffron


  1. Puree the onion, garlic paste, ginger paste, green chiles, cardamom, cinnamon,
    cloves, poppy seeds, turmeric, chile powder & yoghurt.


  1. Heat 60 g of the ghee in a large pan. Sauté the onions until golden brown. Remove
    and set aside.
  2. In the same pan, toast the cashews and raisins until they begin to colour. Remove
    and set aside.
  3. Add the paste to the same pan and cook briefly.
  4. Add the carrots, potatoes, and cauliflower. Cover and cook until the vegetables are
  5. about halfway done. Then add the tomatoes. You may need to add a little water.
  6. Add the corn, peas, and green pepper. Finish with cilantro and mint leaves.
  7. Wash the rice. Boil the rice in a pot with plenty of water until three-quarters done.
  8. Drain and cool.
  9. Warm the milk in a pan with the saffron. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  10. Spread 10 g of ghee on the bottom of a pan. Make alternate layers of rice and
  11. vegetables. Add the milk and remaining ghee. Garnish with onions, cashews, and
  12. raisins.
  13. Cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

A little tip on adding the cinnamon stick. Fold it into a tea towel and use the back of the knife to chop it into smaller pieces for the blender

Blend the paste until all the ingredients are reduced, then set aside.

You will be using the same pan for all your cooking preparation of the filling. Make sure it is large enough to hold the ingredients. Sauté the onions until golden. This is what is known as caramelization – the browning of the sugars. It should take about 15 minutes on medium heat.

Sauté the cashews and raisins in the same pan then set aside. They will be used as a garnish. The recipe has you adding water if necessary to maintain the sauce level. I used vegetable broth for this dish.

While the filling is cooking, prepare the roasted saffron and milk. Once ready you can set it aside. If you have orange powder, you can mix it with water and set aside to use to decorate the top of the biryani. When you add the corriander and mint, save some for the final garnish.

With your filling and rice ready, add a little melted ghee to the bottom of the pot or pan. Add a layer of the vegetable filling followed by a layer of rice. Continue layering but make sure you have enough rice for the final layer.

Add the saffron mix. You can make a decorative pattern complemented with the orange powder liquid. Garnish with cashews, raisins, coriander and mint.

Make sure you cover with a tight fitting lid. After baking, you will notice the top layer is a bit dry. Using a spoon, turn over the rice from the bottom and you will see the succulent rice, yellowed with the saffron milk.

Biryanis are traditionally served with a Raita. I made a soothing cucumber raita minus the chilies.

Kachumber Raita
(Vegetables in a Yoghurt Sauce)
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cucumber, diced
1/2 onion, diced
300 ml yogurt
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 green chiles, chopped
1 sprig mint, chopped
5 g chaat masala
2.5 g cumin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp chile powder
Salt to taste

  1. Mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, yogurt, cilantro, chiles, mint, chaat
    masala, cumin seeds, chile powder, and salt. Serve cold.

The Lamb Biryani is prepared a little differently. First thing is to make a Lamb Curry.

Lamb Curry – Yield 4 portions

Ingredients Quantity
Boneless lamb, diced 600 g
Red chili powder 5 g
Peppercorn powder 5 g
Ginger paste 15 g
Garlic paste 15 g
Whole cumin seeds 5 g
Turmeric 5 g
Garam masala 5 g
Coriander powder 5 g
Cinnamon 1 stick
Cloves 2 pc
Cardamom 3 pc
Ghee 40 g
Onion, chopped 1 full onion
Canned crushed tomatoes 150 ml
Lemon juice 1 pc
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves, washed and chopped 1/2 bunch

  1. Salt the lamb and set aside.
  2. Melt ghee in a pot and add the whole garam masala (cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves) then add the chopped onions and sauté till golden brown.
  3. Add ginger, garlic paste and cook for further 2 minutes on a low flame.
  4. Add all the powdered spices and sauté.
  5. Then add the tomatoes and cook further.
  6. Add the lamb and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  7. Finish off with lime juice and garam masala. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Prepare the marinade. Then prepare the biryani. With this dish, you add the meat and marinade. Then add the rice on top. It is not layered or mixed.

Lamb Biryani – Yield 4 portions

Ingredients Quantity
Lamb diced 600 g
Garlic paste 20 g
Ginger 20 g
Red chili powder 5 g
Garam masala 5 g
Turmeric 5 g
Coriander powder 5 g
Cumin Seeds 5 g
Yogurt 100 ml
Ghee 100 g
Onion, sliced 2 pc
Basmati rice, rinsed and soaked for 15 minutes. 400 g
Whole cardamom 6 pc
Whole cinnamon 1 pc
Whole cloves 4 pc
Coriander leaves 1/2 bunch
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Saffron 1 pinch
Homogenized milk 15 ml
Canned crushed tomatoes 150 ml

  1. Heat the ghee and slowly cook the sliced onions till golden brown. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook lamb as per Lamb Curry recipe (Week 1).
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil with salt and the whole spices and add the drained rice. Bring it to a boil and cook until rice is 3/4 done, then strain.
  4. Set the meat with all the marinade in a thick pan and add the warm rice over it. Do not mix.
  5. Seal it with dough according to the chef’s instructions or put a tight fitting lid on top.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 F and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. Toast saffron in a warm pan and add some milk, when the Biryani is ready open the lid and add the saffron mix to it and finish with chopped coriander.

Served with cucumber raita. In this biryani I added more saffron milk so the colour is more intense.

The stay-at-home lifestyle has provided the opportunity (and time) to try these recipes. I still long for the day when I can get back to the Indian buffet or a sit down Biryani. Until then, I can take pride in these two dishes.

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